Rays Desolate Over Attendance, But That's Hardly The Real Problem

In Tampa Bay, where they're sure to not be in contention for Greatest Sports City anytime soon, things are crumbling.

The Bucs, once undefeated, are now 2-1 -- though it's likely nobody knows it because the games don't sell out and, as such, can't be seen on TV. The Rays, only one win away from their second playoff berth in three years, can't beat Orioles' ace Brian Matusz which, effectively, makes them just like everyone else. And the Lightning -- the Lightning! -- lead the city in attendance by percentage. Then again, they might actually win something this year. 

... like 20 games.

As if things weren't bad enough for our embattled yet endearing Teddy Rays -- they got rid of the "Devil" so people would think they were cute and fluffy, right? -- now nobody is showing up to the monstrosity they call a baseball stadium to watch them get three-hit by Matusz. Oh, the agony. 

David Price, the Rays' ace lefty who might be in contention for the Cy Young if he didn't passive-agressively sabotage his campaign via Twitter, and Evan Longoria both spoke out after Monday night's defeat, chiding the fans for not responding when the Rays actually gave them what they wanted.

Normally, we at SB Nation would take this kind of chatter seriously, but it's obvious that Longo and Price are just stealing a page out of Tom Brady's playbook. And nobody likes a copycat.

Athletes are obviously entitled to complain. Their cushy lives, dream jobs and trophy wives really just aren't enough when thousands in the cities they call home sleep in gutters every night. They work hard and they deserve more. Especially in Tampa, where the weather is beautiful year-round, the taxes are low and the Happiest Place on Earth isn't even far enough away to be considered a road trip. 

So complain they do. Dan Ellis complains about making too much money. Antonio Cromartie complains about the food in a college cafeteria ... and let's face it, he has no right. He should really be complaining about his alimony payments. Or about why kids don't come with their names stamped on their foreheads. Serena Williams complains about not getting into a tennis tournament for free. And Todd Herremans (who?) complains about HBO's lack of tasteful (read: heterosexual) programming.

Why not? You're an athlete. You're allowed to complain. In fact, it's sort of what you're paid for. Things not going well at the plate? Your eyes haven't been checked in a while. Fumbled at the goal line with the game on the line? Too much halftime KFC (man, that Double Down sure is a greasy SOB)? Missed a breakaway chance at an empty net? It's not your fault you're Danny Paille. 

Look, Brady had a right to complain. The last time the Patriots played a meaningful game at Gillette, the fans booed them off the field and left before the end of the first quarter of an eventual 33-14 first-round playoff loss, the first playoff game the Pats lost at The Razor. So when they came back and took a 21-point lead in the opening game of the next season and the fans left, too, that's a problem. 

Not every NFL game can be dramatic. And as a fan, if you're paying top dollar for NFL tickets, when your team starts to lay a beating on an obnoxious-if-not-disrespected rival, why wouldn't you want to stay to watch? 

The Tampa Bay thing is a bigger problem. 

The market isn't suited to handle three professional teams. It's simply not big enough and doesn't contain the target demographics for the NFL and MLB -- and it's much easier to fill a 19,700 seat hockey arena than it is to fill a 39,000 seat MLB stadium with terrible angles, or a 75,000 seat NFL stadium. 

Tropicana Field isn't a quality baseball venue. It's just not. Remember when Dustin Pedroia's catwalk foul ball prompted a Red Sox rally that wound up beating the Rays? Sure, it's not helping the Sox right now, but that could be the difference between home-field advantage in a series against Texas and playing Minnesota on the road in the first round of the playoffs for Tampa. 

It's a market filled with transplants and geriatrics and little more. People don't go to Tampa to watch baseball. They go because they were offered a job there, or because 50 years of working rendered them too brittle to stand up to another harsh northeast winter. They go as Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, Dodgers fans ... and they don't change when they get there. 

After a decade of bad baseball, why should they? 

The Rays aren't about to become baseball's next dynasty. They're cutting their payroll by at least ten million bucks this offseason, and will likely lose the services of at least Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano. Matt Garza and B.J. Upton -- both arbitration eligible this offseason -- may be let go of as well. 

The Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays -- suddenly poised for a breakout year -- each figure to swing four or five games up next year as a result of the Rays' financial woes. The Rays figure to drop quite a ways in the standings, as well. 

It's not guaranteed, but that doesn't make it any less likely. 

The Rays got to where they are today by drafting well and developing better; while teams like the Red Sox and Phillies -- perennials in their own regard -- push talent through their system to increase their value, the Rays have taken their time to let talent mature on its own so that there's less pressure once prospects reach the big leagues. 

It's a system that's about to be tested. With so much offensive production, defensive skill and a shutdown pitcher to boot likely hitting the open market and not looking back, these Rays won't be the same team they've been the past few years. So it makes sense why people aren't jumping on board. After all, you wouldn't start dating someone who you knew was only going to throw away all your stuff and break your heart in two years, even if they had certain inimitable qualities that could make those two years the best ever ... well, maybe you would.

Price and Longoria are entitled to complain about their fan base's lack of presence. They're signed with Tampa through 2014 and 2016, respectively, and there's no reason why their craft -- one which they're both damn good at -- shouldn't be seen or appreciated. 

They should be in the public eye. They should have 30,000+ or more cheering them on every night. And when they inevitably sign with Boston or New York or Philadelphia in about five years, they undoubtedly will. 

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